When To Ignore The Writing Rules

When To Ignore The Writing Rules


We are better writers when we spend time learning how to write properly. Rules are essential. But, in this post, we look at when to ignore the writing rules.

The first thing you learn when you start out on your writing journey is that there are a lot of rules. These are crammed down your throat by everyone and anyone who calls themselves a writer. The rules are overwhelming and often the suck the joy out of your creative endeavour. You will hear all about showing, head hopping, and genre requirements, but all you wanted to do was write a fun story.

Why Are There Even Rules?

Well, ultimately you are aiming to produce a publishable product. There are certain expectations involved in that. Readers expect certain things from a book. Some rules help with clarity, others help to strengthen the emotional connection between the reader and the story, others help to speed up or slow down the story. The rules do perform a function and will help you to produce a saleable product.

When To Ignore The Writing Rules 

But, There Are Times When You Can Ignore The Rules:

1. When You Don’t Know What The Rules Are

Don’t wait until you have mastered the theory. You can spend your whole life studying the art and theory of writing and all you’ll end up being is a student. Writing makes you a writer. The sooner you start the better you’ll get at it. You’ll learn the rules along the way. 

2. When You Are Figuring It Out

At the beginning of a story you don’t know what is going to happen. Even if you have planned and plotted you won’t really know if it is going to work until you get the story on the page. It’s a writing conundrum, you can’t write until know what is going to happen, but you don’t know what is going to happen until you write. At this stage, leave the rules. Once you have an idea of where the story is going you can start figuring out how to apply the rules.

3. When You Are Stuck

Writing is a creative process. Sometimes the restriction placed by rules can help to narrow down the focus or to simplify a complicated plot, but sometimes they just stop the flow and get in the way of the writing. If you are stuck forget about what you are ‘supposed to’ do and just write the story as it happens in your head. Once it is a tangible piece of writing you can edit it.

4. When You Do It Deliberately

Once you have mastered the rules you can break them with abandon. Knowing how to manipulate and subvert a device can lead to a unique story, but remember to make this a calculated and strategic writing decisions, not just for sake of breaking the rules.

TIP: When you are trying to master ‘the rules’ don’t try working on them all at once. Pick one device to master. For example: if you want to learn about showing, and viewpoint, and sub-plots, and dialogue it’ll be overwhelming to learn about all them at once. Pick one and work on that.

The Last Word

Remember, the rules are there to help you create a good product, but don’t let the rules stop you from writing the book of your dreams.

Mia Botha by Mia Botha

Buy Mia’s book on how to write short stories: Write the crap out of it and other short story writing advice

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This article has 7 comments

  1. Anne

    This is the best and most succinct article I have read on the subject. When I started to discover the “rules” which govern fiction writing, I was struck with a bad case of creative paralysis, and only recovered my mojo when I realized that the rules are only guidelines, and they key is to break them knowingly when it serves your story. I once asked a writing guru, who was adamant about a rule, “what government passed this law?”, and she failed to understand my question.
    Thank you Mia. You shine the light of common sense on writing.

    • Mia Botha

      Thank you, Anne. I love your question about the government. Hehe. Happy writing.

  2. Tina

    Thank you for this article. It’s always a risk to break the rules, because so many people will think that you simply don’t know, but it’s worth it when done write. Good primer on the subject.

  3. Martin Haworth

    Love it! Thanks for the relief!

  4. Mia Botha

    It is a relief and a pleasure.

  5. Lari

    Would love to read your book, but I don’t buy from amazon. Do you have a paper copy available?

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